Happy Friday! For today’s post, let’s take a fresh look at your basic seated posture. In Sanskrit, the word asana, which we often translate as “pose”, actually means “seat” – so a simple seated pose might very well be the original asana. In Western cultures where we’ve transitioned away from sitting directly on the floor, even a simple cross-legged posture can be very challenging for many bodies. Changing your focus when setting up your seated pose can make a big difference to how the pose feels.
A pose with baggage
Has anyone ever told you to sit up straight? And how do you feel when you consider that instruction?
Our ideas about sitting (and standing) straight have an interesting history, going back hundreds of years. Straight posture has become intensely tied to morality and social standing, as well as ideas of health and vitality. The word “slouch” has even come to refer to a person who is lazy or inept!
The cultural message is very clear: slouching = bad. Straight posture = good.
When we sit or stand in yoga class, it’s easy to fall into a performance mode. Especially because posture has emotional baggage tied to it, we become very concerned with how our pose looks. We may (consciously or subconsciously) fear being judged for a subpar seated posture or Tadasana standing pose.
The challenge of floor sitting
Most of us aren’t used to spending a lot of time sitting on the floor. Our bodies may find it challenging to access the mobility needed to sit comfortably without a chair. When we layer the desire to have straight, lifted posture onto an unfamiliar and challenging seated position on the floor, this can result in feeling uncomfortable or even being in pain.
There are a lot of things we can do to change how it feels to sit on the floor – and some of us may be better off applying these principles to sitting in a chair right now, which is still a great place to start. In this post, I’ll offer a few different options to explore. Pick the one where you feel the most ease and start there.
(If you want to gain more mobility to sit comfortably on the floor, please reach out and ask me how yoga therapy sessions can support you in meeting that goal.)
Sit on the earth
One thing to notice when you’re in a seated posture, whether it’s on the floor or on a chair, is how much energy you’re expending to lift up. If it’s a lot of energy, it’s not sustainable, adds tension, and probably requires you to compensate for movements that aren’t yet happening well in your body.
One of the cool things about our bodies is that there are lifting mechanisms built in, from the structure of our spine to the pressure differentials within our torso to the mechanisms of our breath.
In short, we don’t have to work so hard. Sitting on the earth (whether directly on the ground, on props, or on a chair) is a practice of surrender.
Explore getting grounded:
When you’re seated, see what happens if you shift your focus from lifting up to relaxing down.
- Find a seat. You can take any seated position on the floor, or sit on a chair. Start with the seat that feels most comfortable for you and work from there. More about that in a minute.
- Connect to the center of your sit bones. Rock from side to side and forward to back, and tilt the pelvis slightly forward and back to find what feels like your center.
- Notice the parts of the body touching the earth, props, or chair. Start using your exhale breaths to get heavier down into all of those places. If you feel yourself slumping or slouching a little, allow that to occur. Notice the quality of the thoughts that arise as you go through this process, and then return to the breath and the weight of the body on the earth.
- Begin inviting the inhales into the whole circumference of the ribcage. Don’t force the breath – it doesn’t have to be deep or dramatic. Rather become aware of the three-dimensional expansion of the ribcage that occurs with each inhale breath, keeping everything soft and easy. Continue to soften to the earth on the exhale.
- Stay for as long as it feels good and notice whatever there is to notice.
Explore your comfortable seat:
There are lots of ways to sit:
- Legs stretched in front of you, together or wide
- Soles of the feet together (Baddha Konasana)
- On a chair
- And many more!
As you start this exploration of getting grounded and relaxing your weight into the support of the earth, you may find that it’s hard to relax – your muscles might be working or tense in order to support you, or you may feel like you’ll tip over if you relax certain muscles.
Two things you can try in this situation are:
- Add height under your sit bones, and/or
- Change your position.
If you’re sitting on the floor, try adding height under your sit bones. Folded blankets work well for this, and you can also sit on bolsters, cushions or pillows, or blocks. It is often helpful if the support is on the firm side, but use what you have. Once you’ve added height, try relaxing your weight to the earth again and notice if anything feels different. You may need to add even more height or get onto a stool or chair. The best set-up is very individual, so take time to experiment and figure out what works for you. You may also need different support from day to day, morning to evening, or before vs after you practice yoga poses. To the best of your ability, get curious and notice what your body is telling you without getting caught up in judging your posture.
Something else to experiment with is changing your seated position. If you can’t soften into a cross-legged seat, try extending the legs, kneeling, or sitting in a chair. Start where you have the most ease and practice your grounded seat there. There aren’t any prizes for sitting cross-legged or sitting on the floor at all!
Humans are earthly creatures
Humans are designed to live life in gravity. We belong on the earth, and are held and supported by it. Bringing this awareness into our seated postures can be transformative. Allow the spine to be curved and the weight to be supported on the earth, and trust the body to do the lifting.
The information, instruction, and advice contained in this post are in no way intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.